Monday, April 14, 2008

No Charge

I feel a little guilty writing about Tiger Woods today, given that it was Trevor Immelman, and not Woods, who won The Masters. Immelman was clearly the best player this week: he shot three great opening rounds to put him in position and when the conditions and pressure got crazy yesterday afternoon, he held it together enough to win. Moreover, he's a very likable and unassuming bloke with a golf swing that is pretty to watch. I hope this isn't the last we hear from him.

But as has been pointed out elsewhere, yesterday was another example of Tiger not charging from behind to win a major. For all his amazing accomplishments--and they are unparalleled--all of his 13 major championships have come when he was leading or tied for the lead after three rounds. Not one has been the result of a Sunday afternoon flurry that propels him to victory.

Now don't underestimate how difficult it is to win when you are ahead. Peter Kostis (I think insightfully) pointed out on yesterday's telecast that having a big lead makes the physical aspects of golf easier. You don't have to be as precise with your shots since you can make some mistakes and still be in the lead. However, it makes the mental dynamics of the game more complicated since it opens up a wider range of decisions. Should I play safe or aggressively? Should I go for it or lay up? Flag or middle of the green? When you are behind, these decisions are largely made for you. You have to go for it or you won't win. But when you are ahead, your mind can start to get more active and in golf, that's definitely not always a good thing.

Nevertheless, it is odd, at this point in his career, that Tiger has not made a Sunday charge to win a major. He's won other tournaments that way but none of the biggies. And while his legacy would be completely untarnished if he never did, it remains somewhat perplexing. Jack Nicklaus won 8 of his 18 majors coming from behind on Sunday. But Woods hasn't done it once?

I can't really think of any plausible explanation for it but it seems to be a pattern that cries out for one. The only thing I can come up with is that he just presses a bit too much when he is behind--i.e., he tries so hard to shoot a low number (and maybe even a specific number) that he gets in the way of whatever natural momentum he might be able to gather over the course of a round. When he's ahead, he knows that if he just executes, he'll come out on top. But when he's behind, he feels like he has to manufacture something and that's very hard to do.

In any case, the golf season has officially begun and I'll be interested to see how the rest of the summer plays out.


JAK said...

You are right, of course, but there were times like the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, when Woods rose from tied for 7th place after the 3rd round to finish alone in 2nd place. On the other hand, he only had a 69 that Sunday, and Michael Campbell also shot a 69 to win.

Your argument certainly holds, but Woods has indeed frequently improved his position on Sundays, even when he didn't win. It's just that it has been mostly by grinding better than most others, not by an awesome come-from-behinder.

AJK said...

I don't necessarily even mean this as a knock on Tiger. If he tracks down Jack's 18 majors, it doesn't really matter how he wins them. He'll be the best ever. And you are right. It's not like he hasn't played well on some Sundays. I just think it's odd--maybe "surprising" is a better word--that none of his wins have been fourth round comebacks.